Page 18


MOLLY IVINS Listening to Henry B. We hope Henry B is enjoying all the bouquets being tossed his way. Hard to think of anyone who deserves them more. Notice how often the word “honorable” occurs in the political obits? Of how many people now serving in the United States Congress is “honorable” the first word that comes to mind? But me I wish we had honored this honorable man less on his way out of our political life and had listened to him more It’s amazing, when you look at the record, how often Henry B. Gonzalez was rightmany times when nobody else was. If only we had listened. If only Congress had listened that night in 1981, when it was passing the Garn-St. Germain bill between midnight and 1 a.m. with no debate. The new Reagan administration was full of ideological certitude that deregulation was what the country neededget the government off business’ back, get rid of all the petty rules and regulations. And the place to start was the savings-and-loan industry, whose lobbyists had been allowed to write their own deregulation bill. Of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, only four rose in the middle of the night to oppose that bill: Jim Leach, that decent Republican from Iowa, and three Texas Democrats, all of them with populism bone-deep in their political makeup. There’s a reason that Texans describe freezing weather by saying “cold as a banker’s heart.” Because the Gam-St. Germain bill had been written largely in secret, no one was quite sure what was in it. But the Texans rose to oppose it anyway: Jim Wright, Jim Mattox, and Henry B. Gonzalez. You can look it up. If only we had listened to Henry B. as early as 1983, when he warned that Reagan’s HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce was an agent for politically-favored special interests. If only we had listened to Henry B. when he warned us how often PAC money was making our representatives the captives of special interests rather than the public interest. If only we had insisted they follow his example and not accept money from special interests appearing before their own committees. If only we had listened to Henry B. when he warned us about the concentration of power in larger banks instead of encouraging it. If only we had listened to Henry B. Alan Pogue when he told us over the years that the Federal Reserve was too secretive, too powerful, too unresponsive to the public interest. And when Henry B. tells you that Alan Greenspan is a liar, you can look for the man’s nose to grow. And, Texas, beloved Texas, how many years of agony would we have saved ourselves if we had listened to Henry B. during the hideous “seg session” in 1957, when he single-handedly tried to fend off some of the ugliest, most racist legislation ever to disgrace this state? Ronnie Dugger of the Observer described Henry B.’s famous filibuster in the Texas Senate as follows: “He started roaring, he roared on, and he closed roaring; never has his like been seen here before. For twenty-two hours he held the floor, an eloquent, an erudite, a genuine and a passionate man; and any whose minds he didn’t enter had slammed the doors and buried the keys. “He spoke for those who have no voice of their own. He spoke for the. Latin-Americans who have been sweated, cheated and rat-holed. ‘Who speaks for the Negroes? What about them?’ he cried. ‘Why do onetenth of the people of Texas have no representatives in the Legislature? Why do they get the lowly jobs always? Is Texas liberty only for Anglo-Saxons?’ He rose to help prevent ‘the loss of just one liberty for which men have diedmen have died, not just talked, talk is easy.’ His colleagues were ready to quit, but he would not. ‘What a noble opportunity to enlist in a cause that’s eternal, the maintenance of the dignity of a human! For whom does the bell toll? You, the white man, think it tolls for the Negro. I say, the bell tolls for you. It is ringing for us all, for us all.'” Henry B. in full rhetorical flight is eloquent like few others. Thirty-nine years after that astonishing filibuster, a fool named LaFalce from New York tried to take Henry B.’s job as the ranking Democrat on the House Banking Committee. Henry B. rose to speak and gave that new generation of politicians a lesson in how it’s done: “How can I acquiesce in a thing that ignores my record of honorable and successful leadership? How can I be silent in the face of such an injustice?” LaFalce later confessed to reporters, “Henry was so good, I almost voted for him.” Henry B. is not always high-flown. In the 1950s, the politically correct way to refer to Chicanos was “Latin-Americans.” Henry B. once observed that a Latin-American is “a Mexican with a poll tax.” Nor did he later cotton to “Chicano.” Just plain “American” was always good enough for Henry B., no hyphens, as was just plain “Democrat.” On Flag Day in 1993, disgusted by the syrupy display of patriotism, Henry B. said 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 26, 1997